Our ‘new normal’ and world of webinars: capturing the student voice during Covid-19

Written by John Atherton, General Manager, Europe and Africa, Explorance.

A huge part of our ‘new normal’ since lockdown has been attending, and speaking at, a number of HE conferences that have been moved online – as well as devising and delivering our own series of webinars, the latest being our ‘How can we capture the student voice in a time of coronavirus?’ expert panel discussion, which takes place on 13th May (12.00-1.00pm BST).

In the past 10 days alone, we attended the Advance HE Surveys Conference, an event which also saw a presentation from Blue customer Dr Elena Zaitseva at Liverpool John Moores University entitled ‘Are we asking the right questions? Creating student-led question bank for module evaluation’; and we sponsored and spoke at the quality strategy network webinar on building an academic regulatory response to the pandemic. Here I gave my top five tips on running module evaluations during Covid-19.

It has been extremely beneficial to join these sessions – as well as sharing our knowledge and expertise, it helps us to understand the ‘on the ground’ challenges facing universities at this time. For example, at the Advance HE Surveys Conference we heard perspectives from Cardiff Metropolitan University, Sheffield Hallam University, University of Chester, University of East London and University of Liverpool, as well as the Centre for Higher Education in Germany and Queensland University of Technology.

Questions were posed, and discussion held, around approaches to undertaking module evaluation during Covid-19 and the future for student feedback, as well as the importance of capturing feedback in ‘real time’ and quicker action in terms of closing the loop. With online teaching, or potentially even more blended learning, looking increasing likely on university campuses from September delegates felt that collecting and responding to student feedback now is more important than ever. All agreed that it was important to keep running surveys at this time to help try to make students feel connected, but also that it is important to explain ‘why’ students are being asked for their feedback.

There was a discussion on ensuring academics are fully supported in running module evaluations, and the need to create an environment where individuals are not fearful of the implications of bad scores. This was also covered in a recent feature in Times Higher Education. Whilst in my view this article was fairly balanced in terms of ‘for and against’, it highlights a number of limitations around the principles of student evaluation – many of which are almost becoming stereotypes around why not to do it and do not necessarily reflect how these are being tackled by providers like Explorance.

However, with the firmly-embedded National Student Survey (NSS) including questions around the ‘Student Voice’, effectively capturing and responding to student feedback has taken on a whole new meaning for UK institutions, with other policy directives forcing the hand of universities in Europe and Africa. It is not really a question of whether or not universities should undertake module evaluation surveys, in essence it is a ‘must’, but it is about finding the best possible approach that works for individual institutions and their student demographic. And never has this been more important than during this challenging period.

This has led us to develop our own webinar: ‘How can we capture the student voice in a time of coronavirus?’ The unprecedented time we are all experiencing around Covid-19 has presented huge challenges for the HE sector worldwide. The fundamental shift to online teaching has raised serious questions on how the student voice can be captured effectively (for module evaluation and beyond), especially given the sector’s reliance on traditional approaches. In response, we have pulled together an expert panel to allow anyone with an interest in student voice, student satisfaction and student engagement to hear from leading HE professionals who are grappling with this challenge.

We are delighted to have secured Professor Guy Daly, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students) at Coventry University; Professor Jackie Labbe, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at De Montfort University; and Brian Green, Deputy Associate Principal (Learning & Teaching) and at the University of Strathclyde as our expert panel. The webinar is for is essential for anyone working in teaching and learning, student experience or student success and, at the right of writing, has over 200 registrations.

In our one-hour session we will explore the following:

Quality assurance

Ensuring that online teaching is delivering value and providing evidence that students themselves are receiving a fulfilling education, making insight available as quickly as possible if this is not proving to be the case.

Student retention

Ensuring the student voice continues to be captured, and responded to, so existing students do not leave the system (essentially minimising the danger of students not returning to their studies due to poor satisfaction).

Student recruitment

Ensuring that existing students are generally happy with their institution’s response during this difficult period, and specifically that their concerns around modules/courses are listened to; and countering the threat of students posting negative reviews/comments on influential online forums which could hamper future student recruitment.

Time and capacity

Ensuring that tried and tested technology is in place to capture the student voice, therefore enabling academic and professional teams to focus on critical priorities (and not least getting to grips with online teaching).

Longer term planning

Ensuring that contingency planning around module evaluation feedback is in place for the future, working with institutions to help them understand what actions need to be taken ahead of the next future pandemic/crisis.

The webinar is now available for view.

John Atherton is General Manager – Europe and Africa at Explorance

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